Five Bugs You Want to See in Your Garden
Enemies of Tomato Foes
Of course one of the most beloved insects makes it to this list! Praised by gardeners for many years, these brightly colored beetles are not only beautiful, they are HUNGRY. Both the adult and larva voraciously feed on a wide variety of small pests, with aphids being one of their favorite. Though often sold in large amounts, they will rarely stick around unless you are releasing them in a greenhouse or other contained setting. Basically, it’s a waste of money. However, if you can avoid using pesticides and create an inviting environment for them, they will gladly stick around to keep your pest populations in check.
Predatory stink bugs
Don’t let their name scare you off! There are several species of predatory stink bugs (subfamily Asopinae), and they are often used as biological controls for crops… and for good reason. These feed on a wide range of pests such as Colorado potato beetles and other juicy tomato-related pests and do so during all of their life stages. It is important to note that a couple may suck juices out of stems during their first instar, but it is a small price to pay for all the foes they eat later in life! Some species are commercially available for purchase, but again they often fly away. Instead, look into pheromone attractants if available for species in your area. This will lead them to your garden and the never-ending pest buffet will keep them around!
The family Carabidae hosts some of the most (and fastest) carnivorous insects around! Please note that they’re not only fast, but they can also secrete defensive chemicals that in some species are caustic. So, no touchy! Though there are a few herbivorous species that can be considered pests, few touch tomatoes, and most are voracious predators. Many even can feed on larger pests such as hornworms or cutworms.
Braconid wasps often go unnoticed in tomato gardens until lots of small, white cocoons are spotted on pesky (and pest-y) resident hornworms. But this family of wasps doesn’t just destroy hornworms! Many specialize in parasitizing several tomato-related pests. As parasitoids, adults usually lay eggs inside their victims, and the immature stages feed on their “hosts,” ultimately killing the pest as the larvae mature into adults. This eventual demise of the host at the hands of the “guest” is what differentiates parasitoids from parasites, FYI. Anywho, as it pertains to hornworms, the larvae chew their way out of the body, spin white cocoons, and then pupate on the caterpillar’s exoskeleton.
Fight your mites… with mites! Predatory mites may look similar to pest mites (such as spider mites), but I guess you are what you eat? Often distinguished by their longer legs and faster movements, predatory mites are voracious, well, predators. This means they do not feed on your plants, but rather the other small pests that do. Some species are even specialists and are readily available commercially as biological controls. They ONLY feed on specific species which means other beneficial insects are not at risk of being devoured!